Monthly Archives: February 2011

Age concern for charities – where to find younger donors?

A report just published looking at charitable giving in the UK highlights one of the big issues for many charities – their donors are getting older.

The New State of Donation produced University of Bristol and City University London shows that while donations have increased substantially in real terms over the last three decades, there is a worrying rise in the proportion of donors in the older age groups.

The over-65s now account for more than a third of all donations, compared with a quarter in 1978. The problem with that for many charities – and I’ve seen it with many of my clients  – is that, to be blunt, their best donors are dying off.

The problem – and it’s a big one – for many charities is to find ways of engaging with younger donors.

Generation Gap

There is certainly – as suggested in this research – a generational difference in charitable outlook. The culture of charitable giving is no longer the same as it was when the current 0ver-65s were in their 20s.

However, that’s not to say it’s gone. Call me an optimist, but I still see evidence that younger people are just as willing to support charity as their grandparents were, they just need to be sold it in a very different way.

For older generations, charitable giving was often part of their social mores – it was expected. For younger people, its not about conforming, it’s about differentiating – choosing a charity has become like choosing a brand, you do it because it reflects the group you want to belong to, and to some extent those you don’t.

Selling the brand

For that reason, charities have to think like brands – and not be embarrassed about the fact they are selling a product and an aspiration.

Young people will support charities, but the charities have to engage them in the same way a brand would – by making sure that when they donate they get the same sense of peer approval, self-worth, self-identification and aspirational achievement that they get buying a pair of trainers. And that they get something to take home and show their peers afterwards.

And just to make it even trickier – they have to do that while not alienating the older age groups who are still the most important donors, and will be for the considerable medium term.

It’s a topic for a whole research project of its own, but some quick tips for engaging younger donors include:

  • Employ some young people – and talk to them (obvious, but it doesn’t always happen!)
  • Engage with younger people in their territory – online and in the real world. They won’t come to you, so you have to go to them. That means focusing on online engagement, not waiting for people to come to your website.
  • Stop the Chugging – it’s a great way to get short term relationships with donors, it’s an equally great way to alienate young people for life. Younger donors resent the hard sell and react against it.
  • Offer something in return. Volunteering for a charity is a great way to get work experience and enhance your CV prior to going to University or starting in the workplace. As competition gets tougher – the demand for good work experience is increasing. Sell this – through schools, connecting with training providers etc.
  • Be open – young donors are more cynical and more likely to research the good and bad of an organisation before supporting it. Don’t hide anything – especially online. If you aren’t opening up through social media, do it now. As a wise man said, the ROI on Social Media is that your organisation will still be here in 10 years.
  • Don’t try gimmicks – young people are no different to any other donors, they respond to powerful stories and evidence that they can make a difference. Stick to the basics of fundraising, but be imaginative in how you get those stories out there.
  • Get younger people on your board of trustees. An organisation that has decisions and direction being influenced by people from a younger generation will be much more engaged with younger supporters than one that doesn’t. Have a look around your board of trustees. If there is no-one there under the age of 27, do something about it. If there’s no-one under the age of 57, worry.